Archive for the ‘New releases’ Category

TipTop (1)

Countries: Luxembourg, France, Belgium 2013

Director: Serge Bozon

Writers: Odie Barski / Serge Bozon / Axelle Ropert

Runtime: 106 mins

 

A police procedural-as-farce that entertains but doesn’t fire on all cylinders

At one point in Tip Top a detective reports to a senior officer on the sexual peccadilloes of two female Internal Affairs officers. “One likes to hit”, he says, “The other one peeps”. “What do you think the police are doing, then?” is the reply. Emphasising the point, we see a policeman staring in through the window, whereupon a passing copper slaps the back of his head. It is a funny moment in a film that gently amuses, but needs more such moments to really succeed.

The story revolves around the murder of Farid Benamar, a former Algerian policeman-come-refugee, who was the president of a French-Algerian friendship association – possibly engaged in shady activities – and an informant for the French police. To investigate whether the local force could have handled matters better two Internal Affairs officers are sent in. They are Esther Lafarge (Isabelle Huppert) and Sally Marinelli (Sandrine Kiberlain). The latter has been demoted because of “private behaviour incompatible with police ethics” which, we discover, refers to her compulsive Peeping Tom behaviour. Esther Lafarge, on the other hand, gets her kicks from hitting, and being hit by, her violinist boyfriend Gérald (Samy Naceri).

In one early scene we see the two women in their adjoining hotel rooms. Marinelli is gently pleasuring herself as she stares at a half-naked man in an apartment across the way. Lafarge is doing likewise as she stares at images of handcuffs, hammers, and other implements of violence, sent to her mobile phone by Gérald. Meanwhile, local detective Robert Mendès (François Damiens) is trying to peek through their keyholes in order to get some information on these women who are investigating his department. This scene sums up the basic conceit of the film: everybody is watching everyone else. When a seedy reporter starts poking around Mendès accuses him of being a Peeping Tom. But when the story breaks in the media, we realise that the general public are also hanging on every salacious detail of the case.

Such sexual territory is nothing new for Isabelle Huppert, whose character in The Piano Teacher spied on lovers in parked cars. Here, though, the subject matter is played for laughs and Huppert deadpans beautifully in her role, especially as her own character’s behaviour starts to teeter out of control. Kiberlain also effortlessly conveys the gawky awkwardness of Sally Marinelli, and François Damiens amuses as a detective whose faltering attempts to speak Arabic recall Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau.

Unfortunately, the film’s comic potential is undermined by a weak internal logic and poor pacing. In the case of Marinelli’s character, it is not clear why anyone’s private behaviour would be worthy of police attention, let alone demotion within the force. We are also told early on that Lafarge is a highly respected officer, yet later on her own position comes into question because of her own sexual activities, which leads us to wonder how she has got so far without anyone noticing her proclivities before. Tip Top also commits the cinematic sin of placing the best scene at the very start of the film (in which a man – who is actually a police officer – storms into a bar frequented by Algerians and starts shouting racist insults). After this promising opening the rhythm of the film barely changes, apart from one scene where we see Lafarge and Gerald getting their sadomasochistic kicks.

Bearing in mind these shortcomings, I probably enjoyed this film more than it deserved, in large part because of the good performances and, especially, the magnetic screen presence of Isabelle Huppert.

Rating: 6/10

Tip Top was shown at the 2014 East End Film Festival www.eastendfilmfestival.com

Skateboard legend Tas Pappas, during the Q&A session for “All This Mayhem”, at the British Film Institute, London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Australia / UK 2014

Director: Eddie Martin

Runtime: 96 mins

It’s “wheels on fire” in this fabulous skateboarding documentary

If there is any justice in the world All This Mayhem will do for skateboarding what Senna did for F1 motor racing, by which I mean it deserves to find an audience of people who are not already followers of skateboarding. The film tracks the extraordinary rise and fall of Australian boarders Tas and Ben Pappas who, in the 1990s, successfully challenged the dominance of American star Tony Hawk only to have their worlds come crashing down around them in the most dramatic fashion. There are several parallels with Senna and, in fact, producer James Gay-Rees and editor Chris King both worked on that movie.

Like Senna, All This Mayhem is a combination of talking heads and recorded footage obtained from various sources. As a non-boarder I was duly impressed by the skills of this sport’s stars, though for me the boarding footage didn’t quite have the dramatic impact of, for example, Ayrton Senna’s incredible drive at Monaco in the rain or his on-track entanglements with Alain “The Professor” Prost. Where director Eddie Martin’s film really hits paydirt, however, is in the off-ramp footage of the wild Pappas brothers and, surprisingly, the interviews – especially those featuring Tas Pappas himself. Watching the scenes of the very young Pappas brothers and their friends made me nostalgic for a youth that I myself didn’t experience – wild and carefree – and in the interviews recorded for the film Tas Pappas is passionate, funny and rueful.

Tas describes himself and brother Ben as “bogans”, the Australian equivalent of the American term “white trash”. Domestic violence was part of the background to their upbringing, with their mother apparently giving their father at least as good as she got. After a spell learning “death blows” in martial arts training, Tas, and brother Ben, gravitated towards the vertical ramp skateboarding scene in Melbourne’s suburbs, a sport that clearly enabled them to express their individuality. The two of them were devoted to developing their skills, though had somewhat different approaches. Ben would work on his “lines”, repetitively working on a move until he had nailed it, whereas Tas was more inclined to “barnes” it – to decide upon some tricky move and just go for it. Once they had dominated the local scene, they somehow managed to scrape together the cash to head to America, with the explicit intention of dethroning American star Tony Hawk.

Tas Pappas (centre) with friends, following the UK premiere of All This Mayhem, at the British Film Institute.

Right from their early days, drug use – cocaine, speed, marijuana, magic mushrooms – was a part of the scene and performances on the ramp were routinely done under the influence of one or other substance. Clearly some of the boarders felt that drug use enhanced their creative skills on the ramp. Whether or not this was true, the Pappas brothers were soon vying with Tony Hawk for the top spot at boarding events. Their talent helped to revive vertical ramp boarding, which had been in something of a decline. However, the brothers were somewhat disdainful of Hawk’s performances, believing that the American  organisers often gave him undue credit for good but unadventurous moves (again, there are parallels with the disputes with the sporting authorities in Senna – and indeed in Rush, too). In 1996, at the Hard Rock Cafe World Championships, Ben Pappas was unable to perform to his best due to a back injury. This left Tas and Tony Hawk to fight it out. Hawk, again, played it steady but Tas decided to barnes it. He scored highly but broke his ribs in a fall. Hawk and Tas Pappas were now tied. Ben Pappas raged at the judges, because he couldn’t understand why Tas hadn’t won. In the event, there was a playoff and, for a second time, Tas barnesed it. He won.

In Senna, some motor racing fans felt that Alain Prost had been somewhat unfairly depicted. However, that is nothing compared to the pantomime villain that Tony Hawk is made out to be in All This Mayhem. Apparently Hawk told Ben Pappas that he felt he should have been judged the winner at the Hard Rock Cafe event. Ben then verbally laid into Hawk. Torn between playing the magnanimous victor or supporting his brother, Tas opted for the latter, telling Hawk to “Fuck off Hawk, ya fucking wanker!” I don’t know how fair the portrayal of Hawk is, but this last line led to a huge burst of laughter and applause in the audience around me, many of whom were obviously boarders or fans of the sport. Hawk is also the recipient of Tas’s disdain for willingly allowing the sport to be turned into a branch of showbiz, doing any number of inane stunts for money, whereas Tas is committed to the rebellious individualism of boarding’s street roots.

Following Tas’s victory at the Hard Rock Cafe World Championships, he and Ben fell into a pattern of wild partying, a period that became even more extended after Tas was diagnosed with a back injury. Eventually, Ben decided to head back to Australia but got arrested at Sydney airport after cocaine was found in one of his skate shoes. Of course, he was told that he would not be allowed back into America, which meant he could no longer compete on the international stage. Depression gave way to heroin abuse. A relationship with a fellow junky resulted in her death at Ben’s hands, and his suicide shortly afterwards.

Tas managed to get himself straightened out for a while, motivated by Ben’s death and his own fatherhood. However, after taking speed at an event as a way to deal with pain, he slipped back into old habits and eventually got arrested for the same crime as his brother – attempting to enter Australia in possession of cocaine. Tas was imprisoned in 2008 and released in 2012.

All This Mayhem is really a story of a loss of innocence, of young lads who mistakenly thought they could remain wild young rebels forever. Tas and Ben Pappas could just as well have been early tragic rock stars as skateboarders, pioneers without a route map to guide them through the dangerous realm of success. By the same token, when Tas champions the purity of devil-may-care individualism, with no thought of monetary gain, against the ESPN-sponsored showbiz events, it is hard not to cheer him on.

Rating: 10/10

Correction, 15th June 2014 – I originally inadvertently referred to the Pappas brothers getting involved in the “Sydney” boarding scene, when of course I should have said “Melbourne”

 

Fruitvale_Station_poster

USA 2013

Director: Ryan Coogler

Writer: Ryan Coogler

Runtime: 85 mins

A compelling tale of a life cut tragically short

Fruitvale Station is a remarkable first feature from director Ryan Coogler that recounts the story behind a modern injustice. Before the opening credits roll we are shown real-life cameraphone footage of the moment, in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009, that a white transport cop fatally shot Oscar Grant III, an African-American, at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California. Most of what follows is a dramatisation in flashback of Grant’s last day.

Oscar Grant is beautifully played by Michael B. Jordan (best known from The Wire), whose expressive face deftly conveys a range of emotions. What we learn about Grant is that he has a chequered past. He has already done at least one spell in prison, has a temper, has lost his job because of unpunctuality, and he has cheated on his wife Sophina (a fine performance from Melonie Diaz). However, Grant is also depicted as basically a good man. We see him reconciling with Sophina, being a good father, helping a stranger at the supermarket where he had previously worked, and scattering a bag of weed into the ocean (representing his determination not to go back to prison). On this last day of his life we see Grant making preparations for his mother’s birthday celebration that evening.

Ryan Coogler has stated that Grant’s last day was reconstructed from trial records and court transcripts, though a scene in which Grant tries to help a pitbull that is injured in a hit-and-run was created for dramatic purposes. Apparently some critics have either questioned the authenticity of the story portrayed, or the picture that is painted of Grant himself. This strikes me as unnecessary carping, and even holding Fruitvale Station to a different standard from other dramatisations of real-life events. As it is, there is never any suggestion that Grant really has managed to turn his life around. We see him trying to do the right thing, but clearly it is still early days. In one sense, this is what gives the film its poignancy. We will never know whether Grant would have managed to rebuild his life because his life was so cruelly taken away from him.

Following his mother’s birthday party, Oscar, Sophina, and their friends head out towards San Fricisco for the New Year’s celebrations. So noone has to drive under the influence, they take the Bay Area Rapid Transport (BART) system. Without going into all the details, Grant finds himself the victim in an altercation with a white man on the train, as a result of which the BART police only round up various black men at the station. Grant is subsequently shot by one of the cops.

Although Fruitvale Station is a dramatisation, it is shot in a fly-on-the-wall documentary style that really draws the viewer in. The final outcome is of course known to us in advance, but this does not detract from the story  at all. The film is not an in-depth investigation of how the BART police came to shoot an unarmed man; rather, it is a study of a life cut tragically short. It thoroughly deserves the many nominations and awards that it has received around the world.

Rating: 8/10

Edge_of_Tomorrow_Poster

US/UK 2014

Director: Doug Liman

Writers: Christopher McQuarrie. Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, & Hiroshi Sakurazaka (novel)

Runtime: 113 mins

It’s déjà vu again in this cracking sci-fi action blockbuster

You have to hand it to Tom Cruise. At the age of 52 (I had to look that up) – my own age – he passes for about 10 years younger and still makes a more-than-credible action hero (apparently there is also another Mission Impossible on the way). His latest action role is that of Major William Cage in Edge of Tomorrow, a sci-fi blockbuster based on the novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (in the novel Cage is just 20). Planet Earth has been invaded by alien creatures, known as “mimics” because of their ability to copy and respond to the human race’s military strategies. However, the development of a new high-tech military combat jacket has enabled Earth’s soldiers to put up a fight against the invaders.

Despite his rank, Cage is not a combat soldier – he does marketing and recruitment. He therefore protests when ordered to take a camera crew to the front line, gets knocked unconscious, and duly finds himself being kicked awake in the rank of Private. He is fitted with a combat jacket that he barely knows how to operate, dropped into the heat of battle (brilliantly depicted in all its terrifying confusion), and shortly afterwards gets killed by a mimic only to find himself being kicked awake again earlier that day. Cage repeatedly relives this day, his accumulation of experiences enabling him to live a little longer each time until eventually he has a battlefield encounter with Rita Vratasky (Emily Blunt). She is literally the poster-girl for the military, those posters reading “Full Metal Bitch”, following her major victory over the aliens at Verdun. Vratasky knows why Cage is continually reliving his day, because she used to have the same time-travelling ability. Together, they must exploit Cage’s ability in order to find and destroy the alien “brain”, a collective supermind that controls each individual alien.

It is not too hard to spot that Edge of Tomorrow is a melange of movie influences, namely Groundhog Day, Source Code, and Starship Troopers. But whilst these influences are obvious, Edge of Tomorrow works in its own right and is actually great fun. The film does not take itself too seriously and the script is very witty in places, especially in charting Cage’s progress from bumbling PR man to seasoned soldier. When Vratasky explains the cause behind Cage’s time-travelling ability (or perhaps “affliction” might be a better word), she also explains that he must die every day until the alien brain has been destroyed. Accordingly, she occasionally has to despatch Cage herself once his fighting skills have enabled him to survive the aliens unscathed.

Although action flicks of this sort aren’t too much of a challenge for the acting skills of A-listers like Cruise and Blunt, they throw themselves into their roles and have a good onscreen chemistry. The only slight irritation I had was some slightly shaky camera work in one of the action-free interior scenes. Camera movement in this context was obtrusive and rather pointless, but fortunately it did not last long. More importantly, the 3D version worked well, as it so often does for films with lots of crashes and explosions. Filming took place in England, and for many British viewers there will be a certain piquancy to scenes of futuristic battle craft passing over the iconic chalk cliffs on England’s south coast, reminiscent as this is of the journey made by many aircraft during World War 2.

In terms of story, Edge of Tomorrow isn’t quite in the same league as Cruise’s earlier sci-fi outing Minority Report, but this is one of the best action blockbusters you are likely to see this year.

Rating: 8/10

Concussion_Movie_Poster_2013

USA 2013

Director: Stacie Passon

Writer: Stacie Passon

Runtime: 96 mins

A lesbian drama that lacks drama

This directorial debut for Stacie Passon has already received recognition at several festivals around the world, including being awarded the Teddy Jury Prize in Berlin and a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Festival. Perhaps I expected too much given this pedigree, but Concussion was something of a let-down. It would be easy to make a cheap joke about how Concussion gave me a headache, but in truth this movie is far too anodyne to achieve such a result and that is its basic flaw.

Abby (Robin Weigert) is in a sexless lesbian relationship with Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence), who is also the mother of young Jake (Micah Shapero). Abby begins paying for sex with lesbian prostitutes, but after she gives an orgasm to one of the women she has hired Abby sets up in business herself. She insists on meeting first-time clients for coffee before going to bed with them, and we discover a wide range of reasons for women paying for sex with another woman. Abby only wants to meet women from outside her own town, but this changes when a new client turns out to be in her circle of acquaintances (and married to a master of the universe at Goldman Sachs).

It is no great surprise that many people have secrets in their lives, but to see a range of these secret lives depicted on screen was quite illuminating, especially because Abby’s clients cannot be easily categorised – they come from a range of backgrounds and display different motivations and desires. Another strength of the film is the way that it treats lesbian relationships and lesbian parenthood as an unexceptional part of life. Where the film fails is in delivering any kind of drama, conflict, or amusement. In the first ten minutes or so, there are some witty moments, but having created an expectation that this might be quite a humorous film there is nothing much that subsequently amuses. Abby is living a double life, but we never get any sense that there is anything much at stake. There are no real character conflicts and so there is never any real dramatic tension. Will Kate discover what Abby has been doing? Yes? No? Who cares?

Maybe I missed something obvious, but I didn’t really grasp the meaning of the title. Superficially, the title is straightforward: the story begins with Abby being rushed to hospital after being struck on the head by a baseball thrown by Jake. Are we supposed to believe that Abby’s decision to find sex outside her relationship is the result of some increase in desire caused by her concussion? Having read a précis of the film before seeing it, I thought maybe this was going to be the case. But once it was revealed that Kate had lost her interest in sex, then Abby’s behaviour seemed less in need of “explanation”. Or is the term “concussion” supposed to carry some metaphoric meaning? If so, I have to confess that the meaning has escaped me.

Not even the sex scenes manage to liven things up. These manage to be quite intimate, but restrained, with relatively little flesh exposed (especially compared to something like Blue is the Warmest Colour), and these scenes are only on screen briefly. That probably ought to be a good thing, and if the rest of the film had offered more then these scenes would not even need commenting on. But rather like the person with an urge to shout “fuck” during afternoon tea at the vicarage, I just longed for something a bit un-PC to stir things up a bit. Ultimately, the one word to describe Concussion is “worthy”, and what could be more damning?

Rating: 5/10

Frank

UK / Ireland 2014

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Writers: Jon Ronson & Peter Straughan

Runtime: 95 minutes

 

For anyone seeking an alternative to (or respite from) the relentless onslaught of summer blockbusters (so far: Pompeii, Spiderman 2, Godzilla), there can be few better recommendations than the decidedly oddball Frank. As a story this is almost impossible to categorise, but ultimately it is a kind of paen to outsider art. The idea was developed by journalist/writer Jon Ronson (The Men Who Stare at Goats) and draws upon his experiences as sometime keyboard player for the real life Frank Sidebottom, a fictional stage character created by  Chris Sievey.

As Sidebottom Sievey would take to the stage wearing an outsized round mask with big wide eyes (literally an “odd ball”) and adopt a relentlessly cheerful, optimistic persona, whilst he and his band delivered the audience an unpredictable show that might include some ramshackle music, stand-up comedy, and even lectures. But whereas many of the artists in Sievey’s orbit would go on to achieve great fame and success, he not only seemed disinterested in reaching for such a goal but appeared to actively sabotage opportunities that might have led in that direction. As described by Jon Ronson, Chris Sievey was undeniably eccentric but essentially normal. The movie Frank does not pretend to be a biopic of Sievey/Sidebottom, but instead imagines a fictional Frank who never removes his mask, and explores the relationship between Frank, his bandmates, and the tensions between artistic originality and commercialism.

The story begins with Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a young man wandering along a seafront and struggling to compose lyrics based on the things he sees around him. He witnesses the police and an ambulance crew trying to prevent a man from drowning himself in the sea. This would-be suicide turns out to be the keyboard player in a band with the unpronounceable name Soronprfbs. As the wretched keyboardist is taken away to have the seawater pumped from his stomach, Jon strikes up a conversation with Don (Scoot McNairy), who is the band’s manager. When Jon mentions that he plays keyboards, Don disappears back to the band’s van and then returns to say that Frank (Michael Fassbender) has invited Jon to play at that evening’s gig. On stage, Jon is momentarily discombobulated by the sight of Frank’s enormous fake head, but soon finds himself enjoyably settling into their eccentric musical groove.

Soon afterwards Don tells Jon that Frank has invited him to play with the band in Ireland. Thinking that this is just an overnight gig, Jon – who has a regular day job – is startled to discover, once in Ireland, that they are there to record a new album (“I’ve only packed one pair of underpants!” he complains). Worse, with the exception of Don and Frank, the various band members take an inexplicable dislike to Jon and his presence among their group,  especially the theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who seems to ooze contempt from every pore. The tension is not improved by Jon’s attempts to nudge Frank in a slightly more commercial direction.

Frank is one of the few modern films to fully recognise the ubiquitous presence of social media in our everyday lives. The narrative is regularly peppered with Jon’s Twitter updates to a slowly increasing audience of followers, and unbeknownst to the rest of the band he circulates YouTube clips of their rehearsals. When they eventually become aware of this there is outrage among everybody but Frank, who is naively thrilled to discover that twenty-seven thousand people are apparently following the band.  On the strength of this he agrees to the suggestion that the band should play at an American music festival that has a slot to promote interesting new groups. However, once in America all the tensions within the band, and between artistic integrity and commercial realism, come to a head.

If the film can be said to falter at all, it is towards the end where it feels the need to explain the character of Frank. This is not badly done, but it is perhaps just a little too pat. Maybe it would have been just as satisfactory for Frank’s character to remain a mystery. Nonetheless, in its tribute to those who wish to plough the lonely furrow of their own unique artistic vision, come what may, I thought the finale was emotionally satisfying. There are fine performances all round, especially from Gyllenhaal and Fassbender.

Rating: 8/10

Locke_poster

In a series of phone calls whilst on a motorway journey a man’s life falls apart

USA/UK 2013

Director: Steven Knight

Writer: Steven Knight

Runtime: 85 minutes

There must be something in the air. These last few months have given us several films (Gravity, All is Lost, Tracks) in which  a lone or nearly-alone protagonist has to negotiate a difficult situation. For the filmmaker, too, such movies – lacking the usual levels of human interaction – also create a difficult situation, namely the challenge of creating the tension that drives the story along. In Locke, Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises) delivers us another lone protagonist in the figure of Welshman Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), a building site manager who we first meet clocking off and heading down the motorway towards London. For the rest of the film we stay with Locke on his journey through the night, during the course of which a series of hands-free mobile phone calls chart the unravelling of his life. The only other human figures we ever see are a few other men leaving the site at the start of the film and some motorway maintenance workers.

A night-time drive along a motorway may not sound like a promising idea for a movie, but the conversations that transpire during Ivan Locke’s journey are a masterclass in the creation of dramatic tension. Initially, Locke seems like a man in control, deftly scrolling between the contacts on his phone list and making arrangements. But it quickly becomes apparent that something is not right. Locke tells Donal (Andrew Scott), a deputy at the building site, that he will not be turning up for work tomorrow, a crucially important day when huge quantities of concrete are being delivered to lay the foundations for a new tall building. The reason for Locke’s absence is an unenviable personal drama, and Locke finds himself juggling phone calls with colleagues and family, every one of whom is having a drama of their own as the result of Locke’s behaviour.

Through all the turmoil Locke is a man trying to do the right thing by everybody, although sometimes you feel that he is possibly slightly delusional about his ability to put everything right. Locke is trying to be a responsible person, unlike the dead father whom – when not on the phone – he curses and berates. Whenever Locke launches into one of these tirades he stares into the rear view mirror, a symbolic representation of the past where perhaps he expects to see his father’s shade. Outside Locke’s vehicle, headlights and neon lights flash by. Occasionally, police cars, sirens wailing, remind us that there are other dramas going on beyond the one happening before us.

Tom Hardy’s performance as Ivan Locke is quite dazzling. The gentle lilting Welsh accent with which he speaks perfectly suits the outward display of calm with which he meets the various challenges facing him, but it also makes it seem all the more disturbing when emotions burst through to the surface. One suspects that Locke could work as a radio play, as ultimately it is a triumph of writing and performance.

Rating: 10/10

OXV

Is your life determined by your frequency?

UK 2013

Director: Darren Paul Fisher

Writer: Darren Paul Fisher

Runtime: 105 mins

Retitled as Frequencies in the USA.

 

**Mild spoilers included**

Since time immemorial young people have had to negotiate obstacles to their relationships. Typically, these come in the form of parents, love rivals, class barriers, or just lack of interest from the object of one’s desire. Now, in possibly the most cerebral boy-meets-girl movie you are ever likely to see, writer/director Darren Paul Fisher has found a new way to keep young couples apart. He has imagined a world very much like our own, except for one thing. In this world scientists have discovered that people differ in the types of “frequencies” they possess. Not only are high frequencies associated with higher levels of intelligence, but with higher levels of luck too. For it turns out that people’s frequencies are also linked to the physical environment, and good things just happen to fall into place for the lucky ones possessing high frequency. Moreover, a low frequency and a high frequency person are not allowed to spend more than one minute per year in each other’s company, because to do so would be to disrupt the natural order of the physical world, whereupon bizarre events occur.

Crew and cast members at the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival

Parents, of course, want their children to be high frequency but there is one drawback: the higher the frequency, the lower the empathy possessed by the person. Young schoolgirl Marie (Lilly Laight) is high frequency and possesses an astonishingly high IQ, but lacks empathy and so cannot have feelings for others. However, she has learned to display facial expressions that convincingly mimic the expression of actual emotion. Zak (Charlie Rixon) thinks Marie is lovely, but although his IQ is (merely) above average he is low frequency. In an arresting opening scene, we see the school’s children lined up in a corridor, all wearing school uniform, and all clutching shiny green apples. As Marie stands at the front of the line on the left, an apple rolls up beside her foot. It is Zak’s apple, and as she hands him it back she flashes a beautiful smile that quickly vanishes as she faces forwards again.

We later learn that the rolled apple was no accident, but a deliberate action engineered by Zak’s friend Theo (Ethan Turton). As time passes Theo and Zak work together to figure out a way for Zak to be with Marie. In turn, Marie is willing to meet Zak for brief periods as part of her own experimentation with the effects of frequencies. During one such meeting as teenagers, Zak (Dylan Llewellyn) and Marie (Georgina Minter-Brown) extend their meeting – in the school field – past the course of a minute. As they do so, a bunch of suitcases from a passing airplane crash surreally into the grass, illustrating just what can happen when there is a clash of frequencies. But whilst Marie lacks empathy, and so cannot feel anything for Zak, she wishes that she did have feelings. This spurs Zak on in his attempts to find a way to be with Marie.

Director Darren Paul Fisher answers questions at Sci-Fi-London 2014

Later, Zak – now a young adult, played by Daniel Fraser – turns up at Marie’s house (Eleanor Wyld plays adult Marie) and announces that he has found a way for them to be together. He only partially explains to her how this works, but it transpires that certain two-syllable non-words can affect the physical surroundings, preventing the usual disastrous effects of two mismatching frequencies meeting. Zak’s and Marie’s frequencies move closer to each other and she falls in love with him. However, because – unknown to Marie – her feelings are the result of his manipulation, can her love be real? On the other hand, she wanted to be able to have feelings, so isn’t it just an expression of Zak’s own love that he gave her what she wanted? Where does free will enter into all of this? Is there such a thing? Philosophical questions about the manipulation of frequencies become especially pressing when Theo publishes “The Manual”, a book that enables people to engineer events in ways that suit themselves.

The dangers of creating a complex set of intellectual problems in a movie are that the eventual solutions aren’t entirely convincing. OXV: The Manual is no exception, and the way matters are resolved is possibly a touch clichéd. However, by this point I had enjoyed the story, and the very impressive performances by the entire cast, so much that my goodwill towards the film allowed me to not mind the slightly obvious nature of the ending. Speaking of the cast, there were two particularly notable things about the performances. Firstly, the actors who played the characters as children were superb. Their performances were very natural and assured, which is quite a feat when so much depended on facial expressions. Secondly, with different actors portraying the characters at different ages it was remarkable just how consistently those characters behaved in their different incarnations.

Rating: 9/10

LFO_official_poster

 In this very funny sci-fi farce a bereaved misfit discovers that he can use low frequency sound waves to control people 

Sweden / Denmark 2013

Director: Antonio Tublén

Writer: Antonio Tublén

Runtime: 94 minutes

 

Awarded Best Feature at the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival, LFO is the second film by Swedish director Antonio Tublén. It is a deliciously funny and sinister story about one man’s malign use of technology, as though the spirit of domestic farce has collided with J.G. Ballard, with a touch of gothic thrown in for good measure.

Patrik Karlson plays a lonely and depressed widower, Robert Ford, whose wife and son were killed in a suspicious car accident that is currently under investigation by the insurance company and police. When he is not busy cooking and eating eggs – whether this is meant to be indicative of Ford’s dullness or whether it has some deeper symbolic meaning is anyone’s guess – Ford spends most of his time in the basement among a tangle of wires and gadgets, where he conducts research into sound waves together with Sinus-San (Erik Börén), who he speaks with via radio. He means to find a treatment for a mysterious self-diagnosed “sound allergy”.

One day Ford discovers that a combination of low frequency oscillations (the LFO of the title) appear to have an hypnotic effect. When a young and attractive couple move in next door, Ford uses them as experimental guinea pigs for his discovery. During coffee with neighbours Simon (Per Löfberg) and Clara (Ahnna Rasch) he slips out of the room, puts on a pair of headphones, then switches on the sound oscillations. Returning, he instructs Simon to come round and wash his windows, and tells Clara that she has started to find him rather attractive. It works, and after further successes Ford breaks into his neighbours’ home and installs sound equipment so that he can direct their lives from his own house. Before long Ford is regularly having sex with Clara, whilst Simon is alternately relegated to the roles of obedient child and butler.

However, despite the success of the experiment things do not go smoothly for Ford. Sinus San turns up to accuse Ford of cutting him out of the work they had been developing together, and threatening to derail his project.  The police show up looking for the neighbours, who have been reported missing. A representative of the insurance company also calls by as part of their ongoing investigation into the car crash that killed Ford’s wife and son. Ford deals with these unwelcome visitors (Or are they figments of Ford’s imagination? A reference to Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe early on may be a clue**) the same way – by hypnotising them. But there is one visitor that Ford cannot dismiss so readily. At regular intervals the apparition of Ford’s dead wife appears to him, possibly as a ghost but more likely a manifestation of his own unconscious mind and conscience. She reminds him to take his medications, accuses him of causing her fatal car crash, and castigates him about the unethical nature of his sound experiment.

At one level, LFO is a warning about the way that technology can be exploited to satisfy our baser natures. At another level this is simply a very funny science fiction farce. Patrik Karlson’s doleful depiction of Robert Ford beautifully captures this misfit’s depression, but also makes the comic moments all the funnier. The subjects of Ford’s hypnotic suggestion, and especially Per Löfberg and Ahnna Rasch, are terrific at switching between their non-hypnotised and hypnotised selves with just a slight change of facial expression. The fact that the entire movie takes place within interior environments, and with no whizz-bang special effects, is a perfect demonstration, if demonstration is needed, that it is imagination and writing that are at the heart of all good filmmaking.

I don’t want to give a spoiler here, but the end of the film is a startling and hilarious delight.

Rating: 10/10

** I tweeted Antonio Tublén about the pipe image; he said in fact it wasn’t a deliberate reference to Magritte’s painting, though he was playing throughout the film with what’s real or not.

Hungerford (1)

UK / Canada 2014

Director: Drew Casson

Writers: Drew Casson & Jess Cleverly

Runtime: 79 mins

When Hungerford was introduced to the audience at Sci-Fi-London, the festival organiser Louis Savy joked that there was a lot of love in the room for this film but a lot of hate outside; the reason being that other directors would be sick at the attention being garnered for a first time feature by a 19 year old director who has not been to film school.

Hungerford is a low budget feature, produced by start-up film funders Wildseed Studios, but by any standards it is a hugely enjoyable and accomplished film. It pulls off the neat trick of being considerably more than the sum of its parts. Firstly, it is a found footage movie, which is a technique you might have thought had run out of steam. Secondly, whether consciously or unconsciously the writers would appear to have been heavily influenced by Shaun of the Dead (with maybe a pinch of Hot Fuzz and 28 Days Later added for good measure). Third, this is more or less a zombie film, which is itself a genre that has rather been done to, er, death, in recent years.

Plotwise, the story is straight out of Shaun of the Dead: A young man without much direction in his life has to rally his only semi-responsible friends when the people in their town become zombies (actually possessed by alien entities). This includes making a trip to rescue the girl with whom he has a rather on-off relationship and who takes a rather dim view of his own friends. What makes this so much more than a merely derivative film, however, is the sheer verve with which the story is told, the convincing performances of the actors and especially the excellent chemistry between them.

The film begins with young Cowen speaking to camera, having just woken up with a hangover, and explaining how this is the first day of the video diary he is making for his BTEC media course. He stumbles around the house introducing us to his friends – eager-to-please Philippa (Georgia Bradley), nerdy Kipper (Sam Carter), and the slightly dodgy Adam (Tom Scarlett). Adam is the kind of blokey bloke who might be fun to have around until the point where he fails to spot the borderline between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Adam is on probation, for what reason we don’t know, and when Cowen wakes him from his slumber he rolls over to reveal a black eye.

As Cowen is filming his diary the town is rocked by an almighty explosion. Comical copper Terry (Nigel Morgan) arrives on the scene to explain that a factory on the outskirts has been struck by lightning. However, following this dramatic event the townfolk start to behave strangely, and in due course we have a full-on zombie onslaught – although they are not zombies in the strictest sense; rather, people are being possessed by alien creatures that resemble giant cockroaches.

Hungerford is exciting and funny in all the right places, but whereas Shaun of the Dead finished on a joke that tied up its bromance theme director Drew Casson leaves us with a rather more serious ending that provides the scope for a possible sequel. I just hope that Cowen passed his BTEC.

Rating: 9/10